Saturday, 3 July 2010

Catch my meaning?

Do you ever read a book and either miss the true meaning of it all together or are you convinced that there is a hidden meaning but you just aren’t sure what it is? Are you good at picking up symbolism in books or did you have to study it in school in order to truly ‘get it’?

Catcher In The Rye is a good example. When reading it I ‘got’ that Holden was scared of growing up and that he deliberately pushed people away when they were in danger of getting close but when I looked on spark notes after I had read it there was a whole heap of stuff I missed. Who knew there was significance when he wore his red hunting hat or why Holden inquired where the ducks went during winter time? Not me.

I have watched Animal Farm on TV thinking it was just some weird story about some mean animals and read the Narnia books innocently without picking up any Christian meaning.

Did I know that each of the main boys in the book ‘Lord Of The Flies’ were meant to represent different parts in the nature of man? Er no but that might be because I was so busy being bored to tears by that particular book.

But I also have to ask, would knowing any of this enhanced my reading experience of these books? The answer is probably yes or at the very least I would have more respect for the authors. But in order to know all this before hand I would have to look up the entire plot which would have certainly taken away my reading enjoyment. It’s quite hard I would imagine to really immerse yourself in a book when you’re looking up spark notes along the way.

This month I have Alice in Wonderland to read which I have heard contains all kinds of hidden stuff. But its also fun to look afterwards and see which bits I managed to pick up and which bits went so far over my head they may as well be in orbit.

Posted by Jess


  1. I'm sure a lot "goes over my head" - that's why I think it's so great the book blogging community shares thoughts and interpretations. Everyone has different life experiences so we are bound to get unique meanings from novels.

  2. My MA is in English literature, and I'm constantly noticing things and picking up things that I know many people I talk to haven't noticed. But that's not to say I noticed EVERYTHING!

    I know how to analyse literature, but I think I've also learned when to say, 'Enough is enough.'

    At a workshop lately someone started talking very deeply about something in a short story I wrote. She was talking about metaphors, and what things meant etc etc, when really I just wrote it cause it sounded nice.

    Ie. I think most of the time people read way too much into things.

    I think I should right a blog post about this!

  3. I agree with Bethany. Some things are just there because the author liked the way it sounded or felt.
    Often we read our own experiences into books. This is a common problem with revisionist history. The modern reader cannot understand why things were the way they were back in the day and they get frustrated, Fruedian analyze them, and figure out Abraham Lincoln was gay, or a midget in a tall man's body, or a bigamist, etc. Why can't we just read things for what they are.

    On a side note, I read Alice earlier this year and was blissfully unaware of "hidden" meaning. It is still great. For the real hidden meaning anomoly, check out Saki's version of Alice - that is something you need an encyplopedia to understand.

  4. I often feel like I'm missing something when I read short stories. But then, I often wonder if the author intended for all these hidden things to be in their books, or if people are just picking at things that they think are there...

    This reminds me of the author's note at the beginning of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain:

    Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

    And then we go and force kids to analyze it in English class! LOL

  5. Certain literary fiction tends to go over my hear without FULL enjoyment as I am a fast reader. Honestly, that is its pluses and negatives. It is hard to slow down in order to fully comprehend a more complex work.

  6. Yes, yes, yes. I agree with pretty much everything you said.

  7. mynovelreviews - thats very true, thats why I like reading read-alongs, its interesting to see what different people make of a book.

    Bethany - ah so you have an advantage here then. I think you should write a blog post!

    Leah - I finished Alice in Wonderland last night and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. There are about 20 introductory pages in the front going in depth into certain passages but I think I'll leave it, I enjoyed i without those notes.

    La Coccinelle - LOL at that introduction, I love Mark Twain quotes but thats really funny esp in his own book.

    Diane - Im also a fast reader, I did force myself to read the Great Gatsby slowbecause I was enjoying it so much and I did pick up a lot. But mostly I race through books but as long Im enjoying the readin experience it doesnt matter.

  8. There is such a thing as over-analysis. After completing my degree in French and Italian, I went off reading for pleasure for a long time as I couldn't switch off from my quest for hidden deeper meaning - thankfully the illness was shortlived!

  9. Looking too deep into a story for symbols and themes, etc. feels too much like being in school to me. At the same time, habits are hard to break! I like the idea that we each find in a book what we're ready and willing to see in it.

  10. I am pretty sure a lot of the meaning in works of fiction really gets completely missed by me. But at the same time, some of it, especially in classics, I wonder if people are putting there and the author didn't even mean it... I don't know, possibly just trying to explain away the fact that I miss things!

  11. I am a high school English teacher so I teach literature for a lot of my time and I must say, I have to laugh sometimes at the symbolism and meaning that are supposed to be apparent in texts.

    I have to teach these kids to analyse texts to find these things and I am sure, most of the time, that the author never meant.. not it in that way or in that kind of depth. Sometimes, academics make a point of creating meaning in a text. It makes me laugh.

    That said, I do enjoy my job but I think that some of these ideas related to texts are ridiculous. Especially when 'older' texts are analysed in a feminist or religous or racial light. Good fun but I hardly think intended.

  12. I do this all the time, read and re-read whole pages wondering just what I'm missing. It's even worse if this happens with a book everyone else is raving about.

    If you'd like to stop over at Pen and Paper there is an award with your names on it.

  13. Lovey Treez/Marieke/Amy/Rachel/Petty

    Thank you for your comments!

    I dod remember once studying the go between in school and looking at this significance of how many times this boy in the story ran down a staricase and I did think it was strange that the author would go to all that trouble to put that in. I also cant understand when ppl rave about a book and I hate it, I think to myself 'well I MUST be missing something then'

  14. I'm always confused by books. I've just finished White is for Witching and don't have much idea what happened!

    I find it really useful to read complicated books with other people. There is no way I'd have understood half of 2666 without someone else pointing things out. Sometimes I do think I'm not a very good reader, but I think everyone picks up on different things. That thought comforts me a bit!

  15. I've gotten much better at recognizing hidden meanings, but it's been a long road. I think overall it enhances my experience of the books, but not all the time.

    Often I'll recognize something that represents a special message or indicates a double meaning, like the cat in Ethan Frome (horrible book, don't read it), but I won't have any idea what the heck it symbolizes.

    I've been thinking of picking up this book to learn more about picking up symbolism and recognizing their meanings.

  16. Ah the difference in studying a novel and reading it for pleasure!

    Jessica, I just called by to thank you so much for visitng my blog and commenting. I have now replied over there. However I am delighted to have discovered another Brit who writes book reviews and lives in Surrey! Have added you to my reading list as I definitely want to know what you think of The Shadow of the Wind.

  17. YES!!! I finished Catcher in the Rye a few weeks ago and was so confused I couldn't even put it on my blog. I looked up the Sparknotes as well. I just didn't get why it was on a HS reading list.

    I miss alot of symbolism. I appreciate a lady in my library bookclub who is so eloquent in bringing it to our attention. So many times when we all dislike a book she will bring out its good points, and then we think, "hmmm...maybe I should rethink that."